Why record snow followed by warm temperature is a dangerous combination for this California town

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As snow continued to fall on the eastern Sierra Nevada on this week, platoons of earth movers, cranes and utility trucks fanned out across the Owens Valley, scrambling to empty reservoirs and clean out a lattice-work of ditches and pipelines in a frantic effort to protect the key source of Los Angeles’ water.

With snowpack levels at 241% of normal, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti a week ago issued an emergency declaration allowing the Department of Water and Power to take immediate steps to shore up the aqueduct and its $1-billion dust-control project on dry Owens Lake, which L.A. drained to slake its thirst in the last century.

DWP activities have always elicited concern in the Owens Valley, given the history of a water war that began when Los Angeles agents posed as ranchers and farmers to buy land and water rights in the area. Their goal was to build the aqueduct system to meet the needs of the growing metropolis 200 miles to the south.

That vista will be short-lived. The runoff is expected to evaporate within 12 to 18 months, leaving behind an already existing repair job for dust abatement and system improvements expected to cost up to $500 million, officials said.

The rebuilding effort will be done in cooperation with state and federal regulatory agencies, local authorities and stakeholders, the State Lands Commission, which owns the lake bed, and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, which is responsible for protecting the health of Owens Valley residents.

“When we’re done, it’ll be something different than what exists today,” Harasick said. “That’s because we plan to make it more flood-resilient.”

Louis.Sahagun@latimes.com

@LouisSahagun

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